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What are the Different Treatments for a Supraspinatus Tear?

By Alex Terris
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A supraspinatus tear, also known as a rotator cuff tear, is an injury to one of four rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder. Treatment for a supraspinatus tear depends on the severity of the injury, but nearly always begins with rest to help reduce inflammation. Physical therapy, including strengthening and stretching exercises, may be required to allow the muscle to heal correctly. Some of the other different treatments for a supraspinatus tear include cortisone injections and surgery.

In most cases, a supraspinatus tear will not heal naturally. This doesn’t mean that the symptoms won’t disappear over time, however, so invasive treatment may be unnecessary. When a tear occurs to any of the rotator cuff muscles, rest is important to allow the inflammation to settle. This is known as relative rest; complete immobilization of the muscle isn’t required, just a reduction in activities that cause pain. In fact, totally immobilizing the shoulder can cause additional problems.

While the injury is healing, the patient may sometimes need to take painkilling medicine in order to control the pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, are often used for this purpose and can help to control swelling. Standard painkillers such as paracetamol are also commonly taken to reduce symptoms.

Physical therapy for a supraspinatus tear is often essential if the injury is to heal correctly. A physical therapist can help educate the patient about the injury and provide instructions for exercises and stretches to relieve the pain. The therapist may also recommend ice treatment to the injured area or use an ultrasound machine to control inflammation.

If inflammation after a supraspinatus tear doesn’t disappear quickly, it can hinder the patient’s ability to start rehabilitation. In this situation, a cortisone injection may be required. Cortisone is a steroid which acts as a strong anti-inflammatory drug. The injection will usually not solve the problem, but it can provide relief from symptoms and allow the patient to start exercises.

Many people benefit from conservative treatments for a supraspinatus tear. In some cases, however, if the symptoms don’t improve for an extended period of time, surgery may be necessary. A patient and doctor will decide whether surgery is required based on how long the symptoms have been present, whether all other treatments have been attempted, and the severity of the the tear. The choice may also depend on how much the injury affects the person’s everyday life and activities.

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Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Jun 02, 2013

I'm going to have rotator cuff surgery next week. What should I expect?

By bluedolphin — On Jun 01, 2013

@ZipLine-- Not necessarily. It can take a very long time for the rotator cuff to heal. And they're not going to do anything in physical therapy that's going to make the injury worse or that's going to give you pain.

It's usually a good idea to get some rest first for the inflammation to go down and it sounds like you have done that. I don't see anything wrong with doing physical therapy at this point. Your doctor knows best though so you should discuss your concerns with him.

By ZipLine — On May 31, 2013

Does the pain from a torn rotator cuff need to be completely gone before starting physical therapy?

I tore my rotator cuff last month. My doctor told me to rest and then do physical therapy. I have been resting and I will start physical therapy next week but I still have pain. Shouldn't I wait until the pain is completely gone?

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